The Wild Thornberries – Botswana and Safari

Our faithful guide Omar delivered us to the airport where we flew to Johannesburg and then on to Gaberone, the capital of Botswana. At the airport we were greeted by Uncle Dave and Auntie Debbie to drive us out of the understated capital back back to their homes.

Day 319

Our first glimpses of Botswana’s countryside was as we headed out to the park with Dave and debs. After Zanzibar it seemed very brown, little vegetation and few people, a mighty contrast, however as we pulled up to a little rock settlements and bright blue sky, the landscape still held beauty, just a very different sort. We sat out perched on a few rocks reassured by Debbie that the snakes were hibernating, and enjoyed some lunchtime drinks and snacks in the winter sun.

We scrambled up the rock formed hill and acted out the lion king. Zazu made an appearance as did some beautiful but hostile birds who sounded like they were screeching “go away.”

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In the afternoon we went to uncle Richard and auntie Fiona’s for a barbecue, or when in Africa, a braai. There house sits in Odi, further outside Gaberone and they use their land to farm vegetables. The farm is a hubbub of life, 7 dogs, many farm workers and lots of visitors. The food kept coming and as the warm afternoon cooled into the evening we huddled around the campfire.

Day 320

After a morning on the veranda at auntie fi’s, we headed into Gaberone, the understated capital. A few souvenir shops later we headed to one of the few city malls which are recent additions. The city is full of sellers at traffic lights, hoardes of hitchhikers signalling to cramped taxi buses as they pass by. The houses vary from squonk shacks to posh town houses often neighbouring each other. Auntie Fiona explained that village life is still very much a community affair with lots of respect given to the rulings of the village chief, the authority on most matters of daily life.

Day 321

We drove out to the other side of Gaborone to climb Kgale hill with a view over the city. The bush covering the hill is dense and dry, bushes with thorns that mean business. We clambered up the hill spotting rock rabbits on the way. From the top the heat of the winter sun was beautiful and the view spanned out over the city and the sparsely populated countryside around. The dam feeding the cities water supply looked threateningly empty from up there. We found a path which brought us down, still scrambling and scraping to the bottom.

We went for a lovely lunch and then back to relax at the house for the rest of the afternoon. Auntie fi also has house staff, a chef Gumbo and a house help, Lettie so the house is always a friendly hive of activity.

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Day 322

We packed our bags for safari and had a hearty farewell breakfast of bacon and eggs. In convoy with uncle Dave we headed for the South Africa border, less than an hour from Gaberone. My 15th overland border crossing this trip was quiet and straightforward and about 10km inside South Africa we arrived at the gate to Midiqwe Game reserve, over 750sq km of scrub, bush and game. After being searched for firearms we drove along dusty roads, passing zebra and impala on the way. We were collected by a safari vehicle, or driving cinema, and made for Mosetle bush camp.

The camp has no electricity but a warm welcome and it didn’t take us long to feel at home. The immaculate camp had several wooden bungalows with open walls and surplus blankets. There is no running water but a big tank of fresh water and a boiler. For a shower you fill the boiler with cold water, dispelling boiling water which you mix and carry to the shower. The shower is a bucket on a string with a shower head. A warm shower with a view of the African outdoors, a memorable experience. The loo was essentially a posh long drop, but again immaculate and odour free.

High tea was served mid afternoon and then we departed for our first game drive in our moving cinema. It wasn’t long before we spotted Zebra, guinea fowl and impala, and upon spotting two giraffes, a giant white rhino came marching through. An amazing and intelligent animal with a hearty horn, we pursued him as he stomped on, stopping for thought every now and again. As we followed him to the dried up water hole we spotted a pair of Jackal, who mate for life.

The game drive was four hours and we were well stocked with blankets and hats. We came across majestic elephants and steambok. We pulled up in the open bush to stop for a glass of wine and watch the sunset. Jonny our guide was carefully following lion paw prints and after dark we pursued their trail to no avail. As we pulled back into the drive to our camp we were surrounded by elephants, a mum with lots of beautiful babies grazing.

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We waited around the fire for our African braai to be served, steak, chicken and borovoss. We had a visitor to our camp, Barnabas the buffalo. He waited outside our cabin for the watering hole to be filled, then sucked the water noisily, a whole 15 litres, before retreating again to be refilled. Despite appearing friendly and calm, his mean looking horns warned he was not to be messed with. We were joined at the camp by a rock and roll band from America who were filming for a reality show. They were entertaining with their stories, but also with their filming for the show as they were conducting interviews and hypothesising about the shows to come. After dinner we were shown the other visitor to our camp, Harry the Hyena. Aged 12, he appeared gentle and old as he approached camp opportunistically to observe any scraps.

Well fed and watered, we were handed a hot water bottle to survive the cool night temperatures.

Day 323

The wake up call came at 6:30 where we bundled into 5 layers, grabbed pur blankets and headed out on safari once more. Having been given the slip by the lions the night before, Jonny, our guide was intent on finding them. He followed the big cat paw prints and noted the vultures circling overhead, then the call came over the radio that a pride of lions were munching on a zebra nearby. We had to wait our turn to pull in to the scrub, trampling bushes and thorns on the way. There, under the tree were three lions and a zebra ribcage, and another keeping guard from the ever increasing number of jackals closing in. The scene was incredible and we were right there, three metres from the chomping jaws of the lion! Lions have a big feed every 3-4 days, and this zebra was breakfast for the whole pride. Suddenly, the male decided he wanted it to himself and let out a roar as he pounced on his friend. Daisy and I lept across the truck, the sound was incredible and we had front row seats. As we pulled away from the feeding ground we found the rest of the pride, 6 well fed lions under a tree. They were so relaxed, but huge. As another lion came in to join them he thumped his tail down making the other six jump up and giving us the giggles.

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Thrilled from the lions we continued on to see more elephants munching and pulled over for our morning tea and rusk.

Back at the campsite a cooked brunch was served and then the bucket showers were tested out. The few hours of free time were spent enjoying the sun in camp. With 21 camps in the park it remains quiet and you are unaware of other activity in the park.

After lunch the afternoon game drive headed out. A few early spottings of rhino and zebra got us warmed up. We then spotted a huge herd of buffalo, another of the big 5. They certainly aren’t the prettiest of the game, but were interesting to watch as they were such a large community of different ages. We were down in the south corner of the park and we came across three lions sheltering under a tree. Late afternoon a cheetah spotting was reported and we drove over thorns and scrub to find 4 male cheetah under a tree. Our pulling up disturbed them and they began walking. We followed only metres behind. The impala grazing nearby startled and ran. At one point three of the cheetah spotted impala further off and it looked like they might hunt. The other cheetah didn’t get the memo and walked straight into the middle, ruining any chances of catching anything. The cheetah retired under the tree and all four began cleaning each other, more like kittens than cats, a privaledge to see.

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After the sundowner we began patrolling using the light and were blessed with a family of 6 rhino, 2 young, drinking and slurping at the waterhole. The drive back to the camp was chilly and we huddled under the blankets as hares darted across the road.

Day 324

On our final game drive we had tasked the driver with leopard spotting, notoriously the hardest of the big 5. We drove past the waterhole of the night before, a beautiful setting but with only bird life. The call came over the radio of a wild dog sighting, the pack had caught a hyena but had split and two were left. We went to the site, the two beautiful wild dogs, one who had clearly immersed himself in the kill as his face was blood red. Again the kill site was fascinating as a hyena was on the scene, sneaking a body part off into the scrub. The hyena was on full alert with his fur on edge. The dogs weren’t as elegant as the cats but beautifully coloured and great to watch.

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As we left the dogs we encountered a large group of baboons crossing the road, some carrying young. We also spotted the same family of rhino feeding again and were able to get scarily intimate with them. Other sightings included the red heartbeast and the beautiful Kudu, a successful drive.

A fascinating four drives and we were sad to leave, but the game was out in full force as we left the park as we spotted kudu, giraffe and zebra. We crossed back through the border to Botswana.

Next, a farewell to the family, and Johannesburg…

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